Creators who Inspire: Meet Jean-Christophe Réhel

Illness is a tough theme to broach in a TV series. With a touch of humour and a good dose of benevolence, writer Jean-Christophe Réhel accomplishes precisely that with Thin Air (originally titled L'air d'aller in French), his first TV project.

Jean Christophe Réhel [Valérie Thimot Morin]
Jean Christophe Réhel - Photo: Valérie Thimot Morin

After addressing the subject in his semi-autobiographical book, Ce qu'on respire sur Tatouine, Réhel, who lives with cystic fibrosis, set out to provide a fresh perspective to Quebec screens.

“It all started in a hospital waiting room,” he recalls of the project's origins. “There were these two cystic fibrosis patients kidding around and joking. I found it beautiful that they were having such a fun time and found myself envious of their friendship.”

Friendship and solidarity are core themes of this first fiction series produced by Montreal-based production outfit URBANIA, which is broadcast by Télé-Québec. Despite the precarious conditions associated with cystic fibrosis, Thin Air's protagonists Katrine (Catherine St-Laurent), Gabriel (Antoine Olivier Pilon), Jimmy (Joakim Robillard), and Cindy (Noémie Leduc-Vaudry) try to live unhindered lives and do everyday, young people things—like, say, experimenting with magic mushrooms in the first episode.

L'air D'aller 1
Still from Thin Air

There's an undeniable quirkiness and originality to the story, which took home the Student Award for Best Short-Form Series at the 2023 CANNESERIES Festival. As Réhel points out: “The beauty of Thin Air is that it depicts people living with a disorder who are happier, more alive than those who are healthy.” Simultaneously playful and dramatic, the series' distinct tone of voice is supported by sensitive writing steeped in popular culture. The treatment, which at first may seem frightening, is never heavy.

“My number one challenge was not to wallow in self-pity,” Réhel says. “I wanted my characters to be in complete control of their lives. They are beautiful, happy, and confident—despite everything. They can find happiness even if they live with a disorder.”

With the support of the Canada Media Fund, the author was able to see his vision transposed onscreen, and to swap the solitude of the writer's life for a more collaborative, collective experience.

L'air D'aller 3
Still from Thin Air

“From the producer, director, costume designers, and film crew right up to the broadcaster, everyone put in the work, and that’s beautiful,” Réhel acknowledges. “In the end, it is almost a miracle to see a project like this one come to life.”

The series' second season is planned to air in the spring of 2024. According to Réhel, the four friends will face their greatest challenge yet: life.

“In the first season, they were sentenced to death. With the arrival of a miracle drug, they will be condemned to life. All their priorities will change. Unfortunately, Jimmy will not be receptive to the drug and will face the prospect of a lung transplant. His health will decline, while the others will start looking towards the future.”

- By Martin Gignac. This story first appeared in the CMF's 2022-2023 Annual Report.

The Canada Media Fund (CMF) fosters, develops, finances and promotes the production of Canadian content and applications for all audiovisual media platforms. The CMF guides Canadian content towards a competitive global environment by fostering industry innovation, rewarding success, enabling a diversity of voice and promoting access to content through public and private sector partnerships. The CMF receives financial contributions from the Government of Canada and Canada’s cable, satellite and IPTV distributors.
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